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NVLSP and Its Private Law Firm Partner Persuade the Federal Circuit to Overturn 19-Year Precedent, VA Can Now Award Disability Benefits For Pain Related to Military Service

WASHINGTON – In a sweeping legal victory for veterans, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a 19-year lower court precedent which prohibited the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from awarding disability benefits to a veteran for disabling pain if it was not linked to a medical diagnosis.

“What this ruling means is that if a physician cannot diagnose the cause of the pain the veteran is experiencing, but the pain is related to an event, injury, or disease that occurred during the veteran’s military service, the veteran should now win disability benefits,” said Bart Stichman, executive director and co-founder of the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) and one of the attorneys who represented the veteran in the case.

The Federal Circuit’s decision in Saunders v. Wilkie overturned the 1999 precedential decision issued by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims that said VA had no authority to award benefits for pain alone, if the pain was untethered to a medical diagnosis explaining its cause.

NVLSP partnered with pro-bono counsel, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP, on the case. They won the case on behalf of Gulf war veteran Melba Saunders, who served in the Army from November 1987 until October 1994.

Saunders did not experience knee problems before serving in the Army. During her service, however, she sought treatment for knee pain and was diagnosed with patellofemoral pain syndrome. Her exit examination reflected normal lower extremities but noted she had a history of swollen knee and hip joints and bone spurs on her feet.

After leaving the military, she suffered with pain from bilateral knee disorders. In 1994, Saunders filed a VA claim for disability compensation for knee pain, hip pain, and a bilateral foot condition. The VA Regional Office denied it. She filed a reopened VA claim for bilateral knee pain in 2008 and was denied again. She appealed to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals which remanded the case to the Regional Office for additional evidence.

A 2011 VA exam found that Saunders had functional limitations on walking, that she was unable to stand for more than a few minutes, and that sometimes she required use of a cane or brace. The VA physician diagnosed Saunders with bilateral knee pain and concluded that Saunders’ knee condition was at least as likely as not caused by her military service. Nonetheless, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denied the claim, explaining that VA is not authorized to pay disability compensation for “pain” alone, without a medical diagnosis for the pain. The Board cited in support the 1999 Veterans Court decision in Sanchez-Benitez v. West, which held that “pain alone is not a disability for the purpose of VA disability compensation.”

With NVLSP’s help, Ms. Saunders appealed this Board decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in 2015. Relying on its 1999 precedent in Sanchez-Benitez v. West, the Veterans Court affirmed the Board’s denial of her 2008 bilateral knee claim. Ms. Saunders then appealed this 2016 decision of the Veterans Court to the Federal Circuit.

The Federal Circuit’s decision in Saunders v. Wilkie should affect thousands of disabled veterans suffering from pain related to their military service. Over the last 19 years, the Court of Veterans Appeals cited the precedent invalidated by the Federal Circuit in over 100 individual appeals filed by veterans in the Veterans Court. Moreover, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals cited the Veterans Court’s now-invalidated precedent in more than 11,000 individual Board decisions.

“The Federal Circuit’s ruling is a significant victory for disabled veterans, like our client Melba Saunders, who have served their country in wartime and are now unable to work to their full capacity as a result,” said Mel Bostwick, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP who argued the case before the court.

“Congress recognized that the nation owes these veterans for their sacrifices, and the court today vindicated the common-sense notion that this debt does not depend on whether a veteran’s disabling pain can be labeled with a specific medical diagnosis. We are pleased with the court’s straightforward application of the law that corrects a decades-long error by the Veterans Administration,” said Bostwick.

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP strives to ensure that our nation honors its commitment to its 22 million veterans and active duty personnel by ensuring they have the federal benefits they have earned through their service to our country. NVSLP offers training for attorneys and other advocates; connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help when seeking disability benefits; publishes the nation's definitive guide on veteran benefits; and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies and federal courts. For more information go to www.nvlsp.org.


Pearl Harbor, HI – (January 27, 2018) – A seventh Virginia-class submarine, USS Missouri (SSN-780) arrived Friday at its new home port – Pearl Harbor next to the retired battleship – USS Missouri.

“The Battleship Missouri is not abstract history. Here you can walk the decks, touch the ship, and feel what it must have been like,” said Michael Carr, president and CEO of the USS Missouri Memorial Association, caretaker of the Battleship Missouri Memorial. “You can stand on the Surrender Deck and look 500 yards out to the Arizona Memorial where World War II began for America. There are a few places in this country where you can get that emotional attachment to our history.”

The Battleship Missouri Memorial welcomed the USS Missouri (SSN-780) with a special reception aboard the fantail of the Mighty Mo. Lt. Gov. of Missouri Mike Parson and Missouri’s Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann attended the gathering for 80 crew members and their families.

During the reception, Lt. Gov. Parson presented a proclamation on behalf of the Governor of Missouri recognizing January 27 as USS Missouri Day – honoring two warships that have served under the State of Missouri’s name. The proclamation also celebrates the arrival of the USS Missouri (SSN-780) to Pearl Harbor and its successful transfer to the Pacific Fleet.

“George Orwell wrote – ‘we sleep peacefully in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on our behalf.’ I submit to you that the submariners among you today are some of these rough men. They have been and are putting their tails on the line, time and time again for our great country,” said George Howell, Commander for the USS Missouri (SSN-780).

The submarine joined the Atlantic Fleet on July 30, 2010 and has operated in the Atlantic/Mediterranean area.

Battleship Missouri Memorial Since opening in January 1999, the Battleship Missouri Memorial has attracted more than 7-million visitors from around the world with a fascinating tour experience showcasing the USS Missouri’s unique place in history. Located a mere ship’s length from the USS Arizona Memorial, the Mighty Mo completes a historical visitor experience that begins with the “day of infamy” and sinking of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and ends with Japan’s formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The USS Missouri had an astounding career over five decades and three wars – World War II, the Korean War, and Desert Storm – after which it was decommissioned and donated to the USS Missouri Memorial Association, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Association operates the Battleship Missouri Memorial as a historic attraction and oversees her care and preservation with the support of visitors, memberships, grants, and donations.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. General admission, which includes choice of an optional tour, is $29 per adult and $13 per child (4-12). Military, kama‘aina (local resident) and school group pricing is available. For information or reservations, call (toll-free) 1-877-644-4896 or visit USSMissouri.org


Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe
By Robert Matzen

Just in time for the 70th anniversary of It’s A Wonderful Life…

On March 22nd, 1941, James Maitland Stewart, America’s beloved boy-next-door “Jimmy,” left Hollywood behind to take the United States Army Air Corps oath of service.
A highly paid movie star whose country wasn’t yet at war, Stewart’s shocking move made headlines – but for the next four years, he largely remained behind the secure perimeters of air bases in the Western Hemisphere, working his way up military ranks and ducking the press. In the years that followed, Stewart remained steadfastly tight-lipped about what happened “over there” – and ultimately took the story of his service with him to the grave.
With the October 24, 2016 release of Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe [GoodKnight Books], acclaimed historian and bestselling biographer Robert Matzen reveals, for the first time ever, the full scope of the life and service of one of America’s most beloved and enduring cinematic icons.
Intimately detailed and painstakingly researched, Mission takes readers through Stewart’s childhood, college years at Princeton, Broadway career and meteoric rise to Academy Award-winning Hollywood superstar. Unlike any other biography of Jimmy Stewart to date, Mission also uncovers the reasons behind Stewart’s decision to serve in active combat – against the initial protestations of the U.S. government, who would’ve preferred for him to stay in the country, train other pilots, and make recruiting films.
From his formidable lineage (both of Stewart’s grandfathers were Civil War heroes; his father fought in both the Spanish-American War and WWI) to his little-known reputation as one of Hollywood’s most notorious ladies’ men (Ginger Rogers, Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland were but a few of the A-list ladies to fall prey to his charms), Robert Matzen’s Mission provides an unparalleled look at the man who, in his first return to the silver screen following the war, became It’s A
Wonderful Life’s George Bailey – and is set for release just in time for the 70th anniversary of the seminal holiday classic. A not-to-be-missed addition to the bookshelves of military history buffs, Old Hollywood aficionados, and anyone compelled by great storytelling with great heart, Mission presents:

• Jimmy Stewart, who was in his time perceived as a shy and bumbling type, as a ferocious bomber pilot, fearless squadron commander, and American hero patriot
• The making of It’s A Wonderful Life with a leading man who was experiencing PTSD (or, as it was known then, had gone “flak happy”)
• The glitz and glamour of life in Hollywood’s fast lane in the 1930’s and 40’s
• The stories of three “supporting characters” in Stewart’s story: a radio man who flew alongside him, a German civilian girl, and the German general in charge of Nazi fighter aircraft

“To prepare for Mission, I flew in the heavy bombers Jim piloted during the war, combed through thousands of pages of official federal government archives, and traveled to places in Europe where he fought,” shares Matzen. “Other biographies of Jim quickly cover the war and say that he was a pilot and a hero. But I wanted to make these facts real for the reader. What did it mean to drop bombs on people? What was it like? Who were these people? And why were they fighting in the first place?
“Jim didn’t exist in a vacuum,” Matzen continues. “He was part of what he called a ‘grand thing.’ I’ve spent three years writing Mission – and all along, my aim has been to let people see for the first time the incredible things he did in the war. I don’t know how he survived some of those missions.”

About the Author:
Robert Matzen is the author of seven books, including the award-winning Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood and the bestselling Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3, which rose to #2 on the Amazon bestseller list for Biographies, won the 2015 ‘Biography of the Year’ Benjamin Franklin Award, and earned praise from the Smithsonian Institution. Regularly interviewed by international press, including the New York Post, Hollywood Reporter, and BBC, Matzen’s previous print work includes many articles about classic films, and the Greenwood Press reference volume, Carole Lombard: A Bio-Bibliography. His work as a filmmaker earned national awards and his feature documentary about George Washington, When the Forest Ran Red, is a genre classic. He has also written and directed several films for NASA.

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe [GoodKnight Books] will be available on October 24, 2016 via Amazon and in select brick-and-mortar retailers.

Connect with Robert Matzen on Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, and at https://robertmatzen.com/

Plymouth, Massachusetts
Native Serves Aboard USS Fitzgerald

Story by Navy Office of Community Outreach

YOKOSUKA, Japan – A 2010 Plymouth North High School graduate and Plymouth, Mass. native is serving aboard the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), living and working at the Navy’s forward-deployed base south of Tokyo.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Kayla McNicholas is an operations specialist aboard the destroyer operating out of Yokosuka, which is located approximately 35 miles south of Tokyo and accommodates the United States’ furthest forward-deployed naval forces.

An Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, Fitzgerald is 505 feet long or more than 1 1/2 football fields. The ship is 66 feet wide, weighs more than 9,200 tons, and its four gas turbine engines can push the ship through the ocean at nearly 35 miles per hour. The ship is named in honor of Lt. William Charles Fitzgerald, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism on August 7, 1967 in Vietnam.

As a Sailor with numerous responsibilities, McNicholas said she is proud to serve her country aboard a destroyer in Japan.

“I am responsible for standing watch in the combat information center,” said McNicholas.

McNicholas also said she is proud of the work she is doing as part of the Fitzgerald’s 300-member crew, living thousands of miles from home, and protecting America on the world’s oceans.

“The ship gives me a great opportunity to travel the world,” said McNicholas.

“Fitzgerald sailors represent every state in the union as well as a diversity of ethnicities. It is an honor to lead and serve with the finest sailors the nation has to offer,” said Cmdr. Chris England, the ship’s Commanding Officer. “These sailors should be justifiably proud of their accomplishments – a direct reflection of their dedication to mission accomplishment, motivation, and commitment to the Navy.”

Approximately 40 officers and 260 enlisted men make up the ship’s company. Their jobs are highly specialized and keep each part of the 2 billion dollar destroyer running smoothly — this includes everything from washing dishes and preparing meals to maintaining engines and handling weaponry.

Fast, maneuverable, and technically advanced, destroyers provide the required warfighting expertise and operational flexibility to execute any tasking overseas. With multi-mission capabilities in surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, ballistic missile defense, and humanitarian assistance, Arleigh Burke destroyers excel as the Navy’s premier fighting warship.

Assigned to U.S. Seventh Fleet, Fitzgerald sailors are continuously on watch throughout the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, acting as America’s first responders in that part of the world.

As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most versatile combat ships, McNicholas and other Fitzgerald sailors understand they are part of a forward-deployed team that is heavily relied upon to help protect and defend America across the world’s oceans.

“The Navy allows me to meet a lot of different people with unique backgrounds,” said McNicholas.

"Why Being There Matters"

On our planet, more than 70 percent of which is covered by water, being there means having the ability to act from the sea. The Navy is uniquely positioned to be there; the world's oceans give the Navy the power to protect America's interests anywhere, and at any time. Your Navy protects and defends America on the world's oceans. Navy ships, submarines, aircraft and, most importantly, tens of thousands of America's finest young men and women are deployed around the world doing just that. They are there now. They will be there when we are sleeping tonight. They will be there every Saturday, Sunday and holiday this year. They are there around the clock, far from our shores, defending America at all times.

Thank you very much for your support of the men and women in U.S. Navy, deployed around the clock and ready to protect and defend America on the world's oceans.

Very respectfully,

Glenn Sircy, APR
Navy Office of Community Outreach
5722 Integrity Drive Bldg. 456-3
Millington, TN 38054

Our Veterans Need More Than a Day; They Need a Career

By Thomas A. Kennedy


America is home to 21.2 million veterans -- men and women who were willing to risk their lives for our country. Unfortunately, many of these veterans face a daunting personal battle here at home: finding work. According to the labor department, more than 700,000 U.S. veterans are currently unemployed. This simply isn't acceptable. Our veterans have earned the opportunity to earn a living and take part in the very society they fought to defend. The most effective way to help them succeed in post-military life is through targeted efforts to extend educational opportunity.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, competition for jobs has become fierce. Positions that once required a high school degree or less are being filled by college-educated applicants. This development presents a particular challenge for former soldiers, airmen, and sailors, many of whom enlisted without much education or civilian experience. Moreover, unemployed vets who find work typically take 43 weeks to land a job. Joblessness is stressful for all who have experienced it. However, many veterans face additional obstacles. At least 3 million were wounded in battle and still suffer from some form of disability. Among those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, about 20 percent are living with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and one in three cope with a serious psychological trauma.

All these stats are troubling -- and illustrate why Americans must commit to making sure veterans have the tools they need to build successful post-military lives. The best place to start is by broadening educational opportunity for our veterans. Indeed, education is often the determining factor in whether or not a veteran is able to thrive after returning to civilian life.
One initiative has already made important progress in this respect. At the beginning of this academic year, 250 community colleges and universities committed to implementing best practices established by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, and more than 100 educational experts. These "8 Keys to Success" help connect veterans with academic, career, and financial help, and surround them with a community of students and fellow veterans who can encourage them as they further their education.

For similar efforts to grow in number and effectiveness, more Americans need to get involved with private initiatives like Student Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project. These two groups enable soldiers to draw on the skills they have already developed through military service and apply them to their post-military careers. We should always welcome opportunities to show our appreciation for those veterans who risked everything for our safety and security. But these brave men and women need more than our appreciation; they need our help. And, more specifically, they need more opportunities to arm themselves with the skills to create a prosperous, fulfilling life.
Thomas A. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Raytheon. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1977-1983, attaining the rank of captain.




Monument now installed at National Museum of the Marine Corps

Dumfries, Va. – The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation recently announced that retired General Carl Epting Mundy, Jr., 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps, has donated an original casting of the “Always Faithful” monument that stands at the Naval Base Guam, to the Foundation. The sculpture features Kurt the Doberman, the first military working dog killed in action in the 1944 Battle of Guam, during World War II. Military working dogs provided an enormous service to World War II Marines, with some making the ultimate sacrifice while protecting troops. The “Always Faithful” statue was first commissioned by the United Doberman Club along with a Marine Corps officer who went on to serve as a well-known veterinarian to the famous dogs of the Hollywood screens, such as Rin Tin Tin. The monument, by internationally noted sculptor Susan Bahary, is now located in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park adjacent to the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

“We are so pleased that General Mundy donated an original casting of the ‘Always Faithful’ monument to be placed in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park,” said LtGen Robert Blackman, Jr., president and CEO of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. “War dogs served valiantly as part of Marine Corps operations throughout World War II. We are proud to honor their service and the service of all military working dogs throughout Marine Corps history. Visitors to the Marine Corps Heritage Center will now be reminded and have the opportunity to reflect on the dogs’ contributions to our nation and honor their memory.”

“I donated the statue to be placed in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park where it can be seen and appreciated by the public for years to come,” said Mundy. “During my career, I witnessed the special bond between handlers and their dogs, and what a central role the dogs played in helping and protecting our service members. The statue is meant to recognize all the dogs that have served our nation and Marines so faithfully, and I wanted the American public to know more about their contributions.”

The United States Marine Corps began using military working dogs, then known as “war dogs,” during World War II. During the Battle of Guam, Marines used the working dogs, mostly Dobermans and German Shepherds, as sentries, messengers and scouts. From carrying messages and medical supplies, to sniffing out hiding enemy soldiers and warning of forthcoming attacks, the dogs served alongside the Marines, even sleeping in the foxholes with their handlers. Twenty-five Marine war dogs lost their lives during the battle.

Kurt, the first dog killed, was among the war dogs who helped save the lives of many Marines by silently warning the troops of an upcoming attack by 5,000 Japanese soldiers. He was badly injured by the Japanese mortar and grenade attack. Kurt’s handler, Private 1st Class Allen S. Jacobson was also wounded, but would not accept treatment until Kurt was carried to the rear. Kurt died in the arms of 1stLt William Putney, a veterinarian and the commanding officer of the 3rd War Dog Platoon during the Battle of Guam, who tried to save him. Kurt and the dogs killed in action were buried in a portion of the temporary Marine cemetery on the island, with one buried at sea. Later, headstones were added to the dogs’ graves.

After the war, Putney was instrumental in ensuring most of the 549 war dogs were successfully retrained so they could return to the States as domestic pets. While Putney went on to become a successful Hollywood veterinarian, he never forgot the war dogs and devoted his life to making sure they were remembered.

Putney returned to Guam in the late 1980’s to find that the cemetery where the war dogs had been buried had been moved and was ill-kempt. He helped raise funds to have the dogs properly buried, and The National War Dog Cemetery was opened at the U.S. Naval Base at Orote Point. Putney along with the United Doberman Club worked to raise funds to commission the “Always Faithful” monument in honor of the dogs who lost their lives liberating Guam.

In addition to the Naval Base at Guam, castings of the “Always Faithful” monument can also be found at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn, Ala.; the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville; and The Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center in Quantico, Va.; The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog; and in private collections. Nine castings of the monument exist, in addition to the artist’s proof. Putney was a graduate of Auburn University, as is Mundy.

"I couldn't be more thrilled with the placement of ‘Always Faithful’ at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, where it can be seen by so many civilians as well as those in the military,” said sculptor Susan Bahary. “It is especially meaningful and fitting that is was donated by General Carl E. Mundy who as the Commandant of the Marine Corps, officiated at the first unveiling of the monument in Guam in 1994. He has continued to be a great supporter of the sculpture and the valiant war dog handlers and their dogs."

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Marine Corps history, the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation (MCHF) was established in 1979 as a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization. The MCHF supports the historical programs of the Marine Corps in ways not possible through government funds. The MCHF provides grants and scholarships for research and the restoration and preservation of historical Marine Corps artifacts and landmarks. Securing the necessary funding to complete construction of the Marine Corps Heritage Center, which includes the National Museum of the Marine Corps and Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, located in Triangle, Virginia, is the MCHF’s current primary mission while continuing to provide program support for the Corps’ historical, museum, and educational activities.

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